NSW Management Interns' Blog

Blog posts by NSW Management Interns of the Australasian College of Health Service management


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ACHSM blog

Interview with Dr Elizabeth West

Author: Caitlin Hazell

Date: 27/05/2015

Dr Elizabeth West is a third year Medical Administration Trainee based at Westmead Hospital. She is currently completing her traineeship through the Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators which includes studying a Masters of Health Management at the University of New South Wales.

The following are excerpts of an interview with Dr West conducted by Caitlin Hazell, Management intern at Western Sydney Local Health District.


How it all began

I went to medical school at the University of Sydney. I did the graduate medical training program and did an undergraduate degree in science, majoring in mathematics. In some ways this wasn’t as helpful for my medical degree as I would have benefitted more in physiology, anatomy, pathology and similar biomedical sciences. However, the research and study I did made me develop a real taste for research in physics and mathematics and is something that I have carried with me through the years and has been a great strength for me and has been an ongoing theme in my life as a doctor.

What sparked your interest in Health Management?

After exploring avenues such as cardiology and obstetrics and gynaecology as a junior doctor, I started questioning how much of a life I would have as I would have to work extremely hard day in day out, nights and weekends for the next 7-8 years. I didn’t feel like it would give me a chance to develop my own personal life. I had to take a step back and reflect and regroup to decide what I was going to do. By this stage, I had been working as a career medical officer in other hospitals and became very aware of the variations of clinical care that were being provided across the different facilities. I started to question who was overseeing this governance of care and the standards. I was very inspired by one of my colleagues who was involved in safety and quality. She alerted me of a position in medical administration for a trainee at one of the private hospitals and that was the moment that everything changed. I looked at the Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators and was very impressed by the competencies and values that they were espousing. Rather than floating around and struggling to correct the system on an individual basis, I could apply significant changes with a much broader brush as an administrator.

So this is your first administration role?

Yes, I’m currently in my third year as a Medical Administration Trainee with the Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators. This includes doing a Masters in Health Management at the University of New South Wales. I’ve never looked back! I’ve had enormous challenges at times, but I’ve been extremely lucky to have wonderful mentorship.

Tips on time management

Time management is really important. I can’t afford to watch TV, I’m very strict with myself about getting enough sleep and I get up early in the morning to study and complete my assignments. It’s hard because having a social life is a bit of a luxury but I think it’s very important to maintain close friendships, to have support and have those who are important to you understand the challenges you are facing.

On feeling challenged

I had a big eye opening moment when I encountered a head of department who was reluctant to discuss his cases with me and made me feel unwelcome and that I was putting my nose where I shouldn’t be. I had to see the situation from afar and manage it as if everything is the sum of players and agendas rather than a personal attack. That has been an enormous turning point for me on many levels and it lead me to come up with one of my mottos: “The first one who loses it, loses.” It is a bit of a game, and people who lose their temper or get angry have lost control of the situation, and that is very interesting.

Tips on leadership

I have heard people say that clinical leadership responsibility is for consultants and Heads of Department and Organisational leaders only. Reasoning for this including “I’m just a medical student” or “I’m just an intern” and “it’s not my place to speak up”. What concerns me is that, this attitude about leadership profoundly disables the potential of necessary leaders within a health organisation from doing their jobs correctly. If the premise is that we are here to provide excellent patient centred care, then it is not just for some people to provide leadership, it is for everyone to provide leadership and to be welcomed to do so and to be enabled by education and tools to do so. Leadership skills need to be conveyed and embedded across the health organisation, not just to consultants, not just those in ‘senior’ positions. This is a concept that is hugely important because at the end of the day, patients depend on all health staff to be providing not only care but leadership in improving care.

Advice for future health managers

Find a good mentor, or two or three. Build a support base and fill it with colleagues with whom you can troubleshoot in a safe and confidential setting. Get to know yourself, write lots, talk lots, think lots, read other people’s experiences, watch how other people do things, question always and enjoy the process. One of the greatest gifts is being able to competently and confidently manage high pressure and high tension situations, and it’s great to have these capabilities formulated into a curriculum within which we are participating. Have fun, laugh every day, not just cynically. This job is meant to be wonderful and the amount of satisfaction you can achieve from the good you can do is huge. Don’t hold back your appreciation for the good things your colleagues do. You have to be balanced psychologically and remind yourself why you are here, because it isn’t easy and the nature of the job is challenging. But knowing the bigger picture and reminding yourself of it is important, especially as a health manager.

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